'Why is it so hard to love ourselves?' asks Joachim Trier, director of the Oscar-nominated movie The Worst Person In The World

The insightful and relatable narrative follows a young woman named Julie who is trying to figure out who she is and what she wants in her life

Ayesha Tabassum Published :  12th May 2022 05:33 PM   |   Published :   |  12th May 2022 05:33 PM
Actress Renate Reinsve in The Worst Person In The World

Actress Renate Reinsve in The Worst Person In The World

Earlier this year, when the Norwegian movie The Worst Person In The World was nominated for the Best International Feature Film and Best Original Screenplay at the 94th Academy Awards, the actors and the filmmakers caught the attention of the world. The movie had already garnered fame when the lead actress Renate Reinsve had won the Best Actress award at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. An Oscar nomination gave it the push it needed, and since then critics haven’t stopped raving about the film.

The insightful and relatable narrative follows a young woman named Julie who is trying to figure out who she is, what she wants in her life and who she wants to spend her time with. It’s this relatability factor that has struck a chord with the audience all over the world. The movie premieres in India on Mubi this weekend, and we caught up with Joachim Trier, the director, who tells us more about his protagonist and the idea behind the film. Excerpts:

What inspired the character of Julie?
I wanted to do a film about the complexities involved in negotiating romantic relationships. I also wanted to do a film with Renate Reinsve, I had worked with her 10 years ago on Oslo, August 31st. Then Eskil Vogt (co-writer) and I started imagini n g this character as someone who was trying to negotiate the difficulties of life using fantasy and imagination as opposed to reality and time. The fact that sometimes we need to make choices and stand by them, is a human existential dynamic. Then when we were writing, a lot of experience came into play. Some of the troubles Julie goes through resembles those of people in my life and of people I was in relationship with. You take from everywhere.

How much of her character is drawn from real experiences and from imagination?
The true answer is I don’t know. At the end of the day, I don’t know what I am doing till the film is finished and I start showing to people. When they tell me what they feel and think, that’s when I realise why I started doing this. Creating art or film is a yearning to ask questions and explore. And a quest to find form and beauty, situations and visuals that you want to show people. At the bottom of everything you really don’t know why you wanted to do it until it’s done.

Here’s a woman who is making her own decisions, trying to find herself. How important was her journey of self discovery to the story?
I am intrigued to understand the emotional logic of characters. If I made a film about someone who did the right thing all the time it would be very boring. I think life is like that, you need to make mistakes, deal with loss and guilt to move forward in life. The path forward is a messy road. I wanted to describe that with a sense of generosity and love. I think her journey to selfacceptance was more important than to have Julie meet the right guy and be saved by the situation. It had to be a story of self-discovery for us to be interested in it.

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Any anecdotes from the shoot while you were filming?
I always try to open the possibility for luck. I work with a wonderful cinematographer, Kasper Tuxen, who is Danish. This is our first film together and we shot on 35mm film. It is quite expensive but it’s very old school and looks beautiful. We knew it would cost a lot of money when we rolled each time, so we had planned a lot. We had planned this scene when time stands still and Julie is given a break. In a way it is a fantastical scene. She is running away from her relationship to meet someone she is infatuated with. We wanted to make it feel real so we got a lot of people to stand still. This was just after the first wave of Covid, in the late summer of 2020, when people were allowed in Norway to come outside. We were shooting this scene, and the police had blocked the roads, then suddenly people who were watching the filming, ran in and stood still as well, along with the actors. They added in and wanted to be part of the game. It felt like a block party when everyone joined in.

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This is the third film in the Oslo trilogy. What does Oslo mean to you?
It’s home. It’s a city that’s changed a lot since I made my first film, Reprise, about 15 years ago. In the beginning I was ambivalent, I was a young person who wanted to leave Oslo, it felt like it was the suburbs of Europe. Then I went to London. But after a while I realised Oslo is home. It’s the place where I know most people in the world, it’s where my siblings and my family live. I know the streets, I know the light and I know it’s landscape. I can easily do a scene and know where to place it geographically, I also know it sociologically. It’s kind of fun to use it as material. Oslo is not a city that has been filmed like London, New York or Paris. It’s fun to find new images here. It’s like a valley, it has high hills and mountains surround it. You can have some existential moments like Julie when she stands on the brink, high on the hill and looks down on the city, as if she’s existentially pondering, ‘What’s my place down there, what does this city expect from me?’ I think there’s something visually interesting about that.

Why did you call it The Worst Person In the World?
It’s meant ironically, it’s not there to judge. It asks the questions — why is it so difficult with love, why do we think of ourselves as failures? Why is it so hard to love ourselves? It’s a very Norwegian way of saying when people fail, ‘I am the worst person in the world.’ It’s a good title for a romance because it’s the opposite of a romantic title. 

What was your reaction when the Oscar nominations were announced?
We were hoping but not expecting an international nomination. We had all gathered to watch the live broadcast of the nomination announcement and suddenly our named popped up in the Best Screenplay category and it felt like a big, big pat on our back. Eskel and I have worked together since our teenage years, he is a close friend and every film I have worked on is written by him. We take the appreciation with gratitude.

Have you watched any Indian movies?
When I was in film school, I watched a lot of Satyajit Ray films. I haven’t watched a lot of contemporary Indian cinema. But I had a wonderful experience at the Goa Film Festival where I screened my first film Reprieve. I met the great actor Shah Rukh Khan.

What do you want people to take away from your film?
I come from a very small country in the north of Europe, and I am always very pleased that my films are travelling now to other countries. The fact that Mubi is releasing in India is making me proud and happy. I wish that people can identify how I see love as a complex, beautiful and very difficult thing to achieve.